Recent developments about choosing between obtaining a Dutch passport and pursuing a PhD have engaged my thoughts about success and the need to put the conversation into proper perspective in the context of our educational system, which prepares people for the so-called successful life.

I am proficient in discussing this subject because of my combined teaching experience at the pre-tertiary and tertiary levels. I will share my insights into how society, especially students, perceive success and what the education system has engineered for them to pursue to be successful. 

One of the significant concepts about education I learned from my professional training at the College of Education is training socially accepted individuals who will fit in any environment and contribute to society's advancement. This vision rested on skills development, knowledge empowerment, and character training. The school system was to unearth individuals' potential and help them nurture these unique qualities for their personal growth and a triggering transformation in the larger society.

Paradoxically, the same school system that created this exceptional triumvirate of critical areas (skills development, knowledge empowerment, and character training) for assessing the success of a child's education botched the very foundation of its assessment policies.

Let me start with the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) assessment and the popular "ten ones" mantra of success. The BECE assessment did not include a component for assessing skills development and character training. The exam only rewarded recall of knowledge with little emphasis on application in real-life situations. Successful students were those who could adapt to this abstract way of learning. 

The assessment scheme did not scrutinize the character competencies and skills-based development of the so-called successful 'ten ones' pupils. The BECE evaluation model did not include any options for empirically evaluating the desired character traits and skills-based development necessary for societal development. One looked at the child who scored an aggregate 40 yet was very respectful, punctual, time conscious, and had exceptional athletic ability as an unsuccessful child just because they could not make more ones in the BECE. In the eyes of society, these achievements didn't count so long as these kids did not line up "ones" in the final results; they were failures.

It didn't matter how these lads or lassies deemed successful acquired the grades, and nobody was interested in analysing the context of the failure of those who failed.

I taught in the basic school, both private and public, for at least 15 years. I should know that most of these kids pass not because they are intelligent. Similarly, many fail, not because they are failures. However, the school system designs who must fail and who must pass, and these kids are just a manifestation of the poor and biased system that only rewards recall of knowledge ahead of creativity.

A society that chooses this reward scheme in its educational structure leads to dissatisfaction and becomes detrimental for individuals deemed unsuccessful due to their inability to achieve the required academic standards for advancing their lives within the educational system. The system engenders feelings of hopelessness and presents difficulties in maintaining their survival despite the values and critical skills acquired through the educational system.

This phenomenon elicits a legitimate sense of envy among individuals considered unsuccessful by the educational system toward those regarded as successful. This envy is justified because many of these classified failures did not fail; instead, the system could not acknowledge and reward them for the essential skills and desired attitudes they acquired during their education.

A similar system prevails and exacerbates at the senior high school level regarding skills-based training schools, commonly called technical and vocational skills training schools. We look down on these training places with so much discontent, as if only those who fail at the basic school must be in these training schools. I have experienced countless incidents where parents feel insulted and disrespected for suggesting vocational and skills-based training for their wards because the system least recognizes these places of training.

Let's look at a situation where some of these tagged school system failures get a breakthrough to become considerably wealthy. They feel fulfilled and direct the pain and anger they have endured from the unfair system to the system's beneficiaries.

To put it in context, they believe that the system favoured the so-called successful people by rewarding their competencies in recalling knowledge. However, the system jettisoned their version of competencies: positive attitudes, values, and skills-based capabilities. At the very least, the system never gave them a chance. Nevertheless, they have made it and surpassed the former in wealth. In such a situation, they turn to hate education and consider it a waste of time that is not worth pursuing.

Apart from the diaspora mutineers rebelling against their country, thus Twene Jonas, Paul Tabi, Mr Happiness, the Dutchman Toilet Cleaner, and the rest, we often hear people in Ghana make utterances like they have employed university graduates even though they do not have a university degree. These pronouncements confirm the disappointment of not getting rewarded through our education system for these individuals' special skills that society needed for its transformation. Eventually, most of them pay or lobby for an honourary doctorate title in their unique skills to cure that inherent rejection of the school system that continues to linger in their mind.

Coincidentally, some of the students interviewed on this PhD versus a Dutch passport debate are my students at the university. Their responses were not unexpected. However, I saw a wake-up call to interrogate the kind of education we want to give our young brothers and sisters at the university. Every student I have taught at the university can attest to one prominent advice I mostly give on the first day of meeting them.

I tell them one can acquire two types of certificates at the university. The first is the paper certificate attesting that one has completed a university programme, and the second is the brain certificate manifesting in job delivery, attitude, and creativity. I have always encouraged my students to focus on the brain certificate and graduate with the best of class. It is the surest certificate that will prepare them for a quality life.

Albeit the effort to try to orient students to change their mindsets and the over-obsession with first class at the expense of fostering positive attitudes, creativity, and problem-solving skills, many of them still would want to chase effortless marks even if the lecturer gives out the grades for free for no work done. After all, they fall for society's definition of university educational success, which is to smash first class. No one cares about the attitude and skills one develops during university education.

The lack of proper skills and attitudes to make them productive causes most of them to become unemployed and eventually end up poor people with first-class certificates. The same society now highlights the unsuccessful success of their first class, which did not translate into wealth. 

The enigma surrounding society's perception of success becomes profound in this sense when the society that previously regarded individuals with high educational achievements as successful now celebrates those who were once labelled failures within the education system but have become wealthy people as successful individuals. The latter are now glorified and held up as role models due to the accumulation of wealth through their endeavours.

Curiously, the same society turns to look down on the much-touted first-class successes that travelled to give birth to a PhD as worthless simply because these achievements do not come with significant financial prosperity. So, what is success, and how do we measure it to know who is successful and who is not in our modern society? I quiz.

Modern society defines success as equivalent to wealth without recourse to any values. Thus, the expensive car you drive and how fat you donate during social occasions define your success in life. This obsession about success explains why politicians steal to be successful, the youth sell the little investment they have accumulated to travel outside, and some people engage in sakawa to be successful.

However, I see heroes and heroines who save lives at the hospitals in Ghana even though they are more qualified to clean toilets and earn better privileges in a foreign land. I see dedicated PhD holders who travel abroad for conferences and come back to serve their people even though they could have absconded to look for cheap citizenship through marriage. I see teachers paid less, yet they educate children and instill values and discipline in them, which you may not find in most kids in the West. Do we say all these people are unsuccessful in life because they don't hold a Dutch passport? 

Fuseini Iddrisu

Lecturer, UniMAC

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.